The Library is a Growing Organism: Resources for Weeding Collections

Intellectual Freedom Issues, Policies

By: Kristin Pekoll, OIF Assistant Director

“The library is a growing organism”
S.R. Ranganathan (1931)

In order for libraries to grow, they must weed. Weeding is not arbitrary or personal. To enhance a library’s use and relevance in the community, it’s important that the materials shelved are current and in good condition. It does no one any good if the building is full of dusty old tomes that no wants to use. Crowded shelves full of stained, sticky books that are decades old are distasteful and wasteful.

Librarians are trained through education and experience to manage collections of materials with time honored tools and in alignment with board-approved policies. In 1931, S.R. Ranganathan crafted the 5 Laws of Library Science that is traditionally included in library science graduate programs all over the world.

  1. WeedingBooks are for use.
  2. Every reader his (or her) book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

In January 2018, a core group of librarians updated an ALA toolkit for collection development policies and procedures to guide professionals in their weeding and managing endeavors. The Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries opens with the fifth Ranganathan law “The library is a growing organism” because libraries change, communities change, collections change, and resources change. Dr. Ranganathan argued that library organizations must accommodate growth in staff, the physical collection, and patron use. This involved allowing for growth in the physical building, reading areas, shelving, and in space for the catalog. Like a plant that grows, growth requires weeding. Weeding is often ongoing and can look different with the staff, resources, time available, or spatial demands. Through all the various factors, librarians understand the balance of maintaining a collection that both grows and stands the test of time.

Collection Development Policies and Plans

Every library should have a comprehensive written policy that guides the selection, deselection or weeding, and reconsideration of library resources. The most valuable policy is current; it is reviewed and revised on a regular basis; and it is familiar to all members of a library’s staff. The policy should be approved by the library’s governing board and disseminated widely for understanding by all stakeholders. Policy language that references weeding should highlight objective criteria used in making decisions, such as publication date, circulation history, and the physical condition of the resource. Sometimes deselection or weeding policies are incorporated into a collection development policy and sometimes it is its own policy. For example:

Professional Resources

There are many methods and tools used to maintain and weed library resources. The CREW Method (which stands for Continuous Review, Evaluation, and Weeding), created by Belinda Boon and Joseph P. Segal, offers six general guidelines for judging library material under the acronym MUSTIE.

  • M = misleading: factually inaccurate
  • U = ugly: beyond mending or rebinding
  • S = superseded by a new edition or by a much better book on the subject
  • T = trivial: of no discernible literary or scientific merit
  • I = irrelevant to the needs and interests of the library’s community
  • E = elsewhere: the material is easily obtainable from another library

Here are toolkits, articles, and books that can aid library workers in the weeding process:

There is continuing education via webinars, articles, and conference sessions where best practices and resources are shared:

Intellectual Freedom

What does this have to do with intellectual freedom? Libraries and library workers support intellectual freedom and develop policies that help them protect the rights of all users to the content within their buildings. By creating content neutral tools and policies, we make sure that weeding is performed ethically, transparently, and objectively. Principles 6 & 7 of the ALA Code of Ethics states “We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions” and “We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.”

Weeding, when done to update resources, provide for the current information needs of the community.

Weeding Gone Wrong

Rebecca Vnuk’s book The Weeding Handbook: A Shelf-by-Shelf Guide has a whole chapter on “Weeding Gone Wrong,” with horror stories and public relation nightmares about mass weeding and large-scale purging. We also see it in the news:

Understandably, people can be very emotional when it comes to books and materials that are important to them, but in all of these situations, libraries are following best practices and procedures to cultivate and maintain the best possible collections for their communities.

Recently at the Salem Public Library (OR), a few vocal community members are delivering strong objections to a strategic review of materials. City councilors have urged them to pause the review until the public can air its grievances and hopefully learn the importance of maintaining a dynamic collection.

The articles, social media pages, and petitions devoted to this issue are highlighting a few key books as examples of what the library is withdrawing. These books may be included in the Salem Public Library catalog, or there may be a variety of reasons why the book has a “withdrawal” status, including book damage, missing copies, multiple copies, or an updated edition available.

I see a lot of passion and devotion to books and the access libraries provide. Collection development is a standard practice. It’s not always fun, but it is necessary and fruitful.

Support for Collection Development

The Oregon Library Association and ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom support the library workers, board and director in strengthening their collection of materials for the Salem community.

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Kristin PekollKristin Pekoll is the Assistant Director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Kristin communicates with state library associations on current book challenges and publications that deal with censorship, privacy, ethics, and internet filtering. She organizes online education and training on the freedom to read and how to navigate reconsideration requests and media relations. Kristin started her career as a youth librarian in West Bend, Wisconsin. In 2009, over 80 YA LGBTQ books were challenged over 6 months. While the library board voted to retain all of the books in this case, she learned the indispensable value of support and education for librarians. She continued to fight against censorship in Wisconsin as the Intellectual Freedom Round Table Chair. Kristin’s husband and kids have joined her in Chicago but they all remain true Green Bay Packers fans. She enjoys zombies, knitting, and the Big Bang Theory. Find her on Twitter @kpekoll.


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